Assisting Architects with Specification Writing

 (Article 5 of the series on “Becoming an Independent Manufacturers’ Rep Who Develops Specifications with Architects and Engineers“)   In the “Product” section of a specification, the architect or engineer (A/E) describes or lists the manufacturers and products that are qualified to bid the project. In many specifications, this might be a laundry list of manufacturers. However, it is best to help the architect select three competitive manufacturers, including the one you represent. Some architects use the “or equal” clause to allow other manufacturers to bid. Sometimes, a ten-day prior approval is required of manufacturers who are not listed. Often, the A/E chooses not to review substitutions until after they award of the project. In any case, as a trusted advisor, you have the ability to make the architect aware that you will help in evaluating substitutions to be sure they truly provide the client with the same performance as the products described or listed in his specifications. Whether the specifications are being written by an in-house or outside specification writer or another member of the design team, the goal is to have the product(s) you represent become the design standard of the specification. When your product becomes the design standard, this gives you the best chance of selling your product to whomever is the ultimate purchaser in the construction process being used. When working with an A/E, particularly for the first time, it is beneficial to you and the A/E to review his specifications. This gives you the opportunity to be sure the performance characteristics of your product(s) are used in the specification—or at a minimum that the performance characteristics the specification writer prefers does not prevent the bidding of your product. If the specification writer asks you to write a specification for a particular project from scratch, it is best to use the specification published by your manufacturer. Simply modify it to be in the format preferred by the A/E’s office. If you use proprietary product characteristics, be sure the architect understands why this is important for the project, because using these characteristics will limit manufacturers who can bid. However, when all is said and done, leave the final decision to the architect. Overstepping your bounds will not result in the relationship you are looking for. Often, specifications are written with short deadlines. If you are assisting architects with specification writing or writing specifications from scratch, be cognizant of the deadlines. Submit information when promised. If you have questions about working with an A/E on a specific project or have general questions about assisting in writing specifications, please contact Scott Lau Consulting online or call...

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Becoming a Trusted Advisor

(Article 4 of the series on “Becoming an Independent Manufacturers’ Rep who Develops Specifications with Architects and Engineers”)   The term “trusted advisor” is a catchy phrase used in many business environments. Yet how do you know one when you see one? As noted by the article, “What Does a Trusted Advisor Look Like?” a trusted advisor can be identified by these characteristics: Someone looking for a long-term relationship, not short-term gain; Someone who puts clients’ interests in front of their own; Someone who is genuinely interested in their clients and their businesses; Someone who works hard to understand a client’s underlying interests not just surface “wants”; Someone who is reliable – does what he or she says he or she will do; Someone who is credible; Someone who gets up close and personal; Someone who connects emotionally; Someone who is genuinely passionate and enthusiastic; Someone who is authentic. These characteristics apply directly to a trusted advisor who is working with an A/E. For a manufacturers’ representative, becoming a trusted advisor takes time and a focus on being a consultant and problem solver, not simply a sales person. After decades of experience in the construction industry, I have found the following steps are required to become an A/E’s trusted advisor. Answer an architect’s questions clearly and in a timely manner. If you do not know the answer, check with an appropriate source. Give the architect the final answer when promised. When calling to offer design or specification assistance on a particular project, do your best to make the contact at the right stage of the project. A/E’s are very busy and often under time constraints to complete specifications. Some A/E’s accept telephone calls, but most often the initial contact should be made by email. Keep the A/E up-to-date with information about new products or changes to existing products through social media and emails. Do not flood them with constant communication. Keep communication concise and timely. Link your company website to the websites of the manufacturers you represent. Keep the manufacturers you represent limited to one or at most two Divisions of the specifications. The A/E needs to learn and understand what technical areas you can assist with, so he knows when to call for consultation with you. Provide educational lunches and seminars at appropriate times. Get to know an architect personally by spending short times during personal visits to talk about family, hobbies, etc. Entertain the A/E as appropriate. Becoming a trusted advisor might sound intimidating, but it’s doable with thoughtful effort. With this understood, it leads us to our last question, addressed in Article 5, “How does an independent manufacturers’ rep assist architects with specification writing?”  Questions so...

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When should an A/E be contacted to offer specification assistance?

(Article 3 of the series on “Becoming an Independent Manufacturers’ Rep who Develops Specifications with Architects and Engineers”)   It is important to understand the complete design process and how construction documents are developed to understand when the architect or engineer (A/E) needs to be contacted by an independent manufacturers’ rep to offer specification assistance. A very simplified description of the design process is comprised of the following phases: Schematic Design – a client’s design objectives are discussed. Alternative approaches to design and construction are developed. Design Development – constructability and integration of products and systems become defined. Construction Documents – final architectural drawings and specifications are developed. The specifications are written during this phase. Often the A/E will call a trusted advisor rep if he needs specification assistance. If he does not, or if a rep is not well established with a particular A/E office, a challenge for a rep is when to make contact to offer assistance for a particular product a rep is working to get specified. The timing depends partially on the type of product. If the product is highly technical or if it is important to the aesthetics, constructability, and final performance of the project, it normally will be necessary for the rep to introduce his product during the design phase. Although the specification will not be written until the later construction documents, the product must be incorporated into the project design for the rep to be asked to help with the specifications. If the product does not meet the criteria above, such as a commodity type product, the appropriate time to offer specification assistance is during the construction document phase. With this understood, it leads us to our next question, addressed in Article 4, “How does an independent manufacturers’ rep for architectural products become a trusted advisor?” Questions so far? Scott Lau Consulting is ready to be a trusted advisor for you. Contact Scott...

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What are Product Specifications and How are They Created?

(Article 2 of the series on “Becoming an Independent Manufacturers’ Rep Who Develops Specifications with Architects and Engineers“) One of the most important aspects of marketing to architects and engineers (A/E’s) and getting a rep’s products specified is to fully understand the complete construction process and then realize how product specifications fit into this process. Sitting for testing to receive a CDT (Construction Documents Technician) is a critical step. This certification is highly respected by A/E’s. It provides a rep the in-depth knowledge he or she needs and helps open doors into A/E’s offices. Contact Construction Specification Institute (CSI), 110 S Union St #100, Alexandria, VA 22314 for test and certification information. Specifications define the qualitative requirements for products, materials, and workmanship upon which the project contract is based. They are normally written by in-house specification writers, project managers, or outside specification writers for the purpose of deciding which type of specification(s) they will use for a particular project. There are four basic types of product specifications:   Descriptive   Performance   Reference Standard   Proprietary Descriptive Specifications These specify properties of materials and methods of installation. Neither manufacturers nor product names are listed. Since detail technical product knowledge is required, it is the type of specification where a manufacturers’ rep can be invaluable in assisting the A/E to provide the correct product information. Performance Specifications These specify desired product performance results and how those results will be measured and verified. Neither manufacturers nor product names are used. This type specification allows the contractor flexibility in selecting products to be used. If the A/E and his client are interested in using new and innovative products, this type of specification is a good one to use. Reference Standard Specifications These specify products and processes by well-recognized industry standards. Proprietary Specifications These specify manufacturers, product names, specific model numbers and other unique characteristics about a product. Additionally, specs are referred to as being “open” or “closed.” If a proprietary specification is “closed,” one product can be named, or several products can be named as options. A “closed” proprietary specification often does not allow substitutions. In an “open” proprietary specification, alternative acceptable products are listed. Substitutions can be proposed by bidders, but the substitutions must be approved by the (A/E). In either an open or closed specification, one product may be designated as the “design standard.” This gives bidders additional information about the quality expected, if substitutions are submitted for approval. When a rep has an opportunity to assist an A/E in writing a specification, it is very important to remember two basic rules of product specification writing: The specification is to be Clear, Concise, Correct, and Complete Conform to the writing style...

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Becoming an Independent Manufacturers’ Rep Who Develops Specifications with Architects and Engineers

Introduction One of the most important responsibilities of an independent manufacturers’ rep for architectural products is working with architects and engineers (A/E) to review their product specifications and assist them in modifying them for individual projects. Well-written specifications are critical to the construction of buildings that fully meet the needs and objectives of an A/E’s clients. If there is a conflict between specifications and drawings in the construction documents, the specifications take legal precedent over the drawings. An A/E will only call on a rep for specifications assistance when the rep has developed a high level of technical and ethical confidence with the A/E. To become a trusted adviser like this takes time and a demonstrated commitment to provide honest advice and service. For further background information, an excellent survey discussing A/E specifications is found in the Architect Digest’s article, “The Truth About Specifications,” but how does an independent manufacturers’ rep for architectural products get to the place where the conversation can even begin? My five-part series on Independent Rep & Architects and Engineers Relationships covers: Why is it important for a manufactures’ product to be included in the specification? What are Product Specifications and How are They Created? When should an A/E be contacted to offer specification assistance? How does an independent manufacturers’ rep for architectural products become a trusted adviser? How does an independent manufacturers’ rep assist architects with specification writing? Let’s start with the first of these questions. Why is it important for a manufactures’ product to be included in the specification? Specifications are developed by the A/E to describe the products and systems that are to be used in a project to meet their client’s requirements for quality and performance. The project builder—be it a general contractor, construction manager, or other entity—is expected to provide pricing based on the specifications. Admittedly, they often do not follow the specifications. The builder and his subcontractors submit and use products with which they are familiar, which are more accessible or cheaper, or which make sense to them for many other reasons. At the same time, the builders and subcontractors understand that it makes life easier for them, as well as for the A/E who must approve substitutions, if they do use a product that is included in the specification. If a rep’s product is not in the specifications, the rep, his manufacturer, the subcontractor, and the builder must go through an arduous process of obtaining A/E approval of a substitution. This is called “back dooring” a product into the project. Not only is this time-consuming for the builder and subcontractor, it is time-consuming for the rep and his manufacturer as well as the A/E. The process takes away...

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Building Positive Relationships with Rep Principals – 8 Tactics to Bring You Closer Together

An independent manufacturers’ representative in the building materials industry must maintain strong relationships with the principals they represent to be successful and profitable. This relationship is critically important with primary principals whose product sales represent a large share of a rep’s business, yet it is also important to build relationships with those secondary, smaller manufacturers, whose products are complimentary to the primary principals. A strategy for building these principal relationships needs to be developed and maintained. To be smart, any independent manufacturers’ representative should always remember the following eight tactics: Agree on a fair contract Maintain regular communications Act as an employee Treat the customer service group as a customer Follow company procedures Aggressively market to architects, engineers and end users Travel with the sales manager Maintain an appropriate number principals These ideas might sound simple, but by putting effort forward in these areas, a manufacturer’s rep is significantly more likely to succeed. I have spent over 40 years as an independent manufacturers’ representative in the building materials industry representing both U.S. manufacturers as well as a few international ones.  Although each manufacture operates differently the common thread that connects them is the importance of building personal business relationships with them as well as with their customers. Most of my career has been representing manufacturers of architectural products.  This has been both challenging and rewarding since it required balance of time and effort marketing to architects as well as handling orders and service with the buying customers. The eight tactics discussed are ones I used over the years from trial and error experiences as well as from discussions with other successful reps during manufacturers sales meetings and building industry conventions and seminars.  These tactics generally work with principals producing commodity products as well as architectural products. Let’s look at each of these tactics one-by-one. Agree on a Fair Rep Contract Most manufacturers in the building materials industry use contracts with manufacturers’ representatives that have a clause stating that either party can cancel the agreement for any reason with just a 30-day notice. Although contracts vary regarding how long a terminated rep can collect commissions, in the real world this is negotiable. Manufacturers might consider how many years the rep has had his contract. Most importantly, the time allowed is based on the rep/principal relationship and how the rep has performed over the years. Because of these one-sided termination clauses, much has been written about rep contracts for the building materials industry as well as many other industries. One of the best sources for additional information is the Manufacturers’ Agents National Association (MANA). Maintain Regular Communications As is true in all relationships, the proper level and type of communications is...

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